Well, here we are!
This is my first week in Rennes, and it has been nothing if not eventful. The first day was left open to us to meet with our host families, get to know them, and generally settle in. My host parents found me quickly, and we talked for a bit at the airport before leaving to their house. What I took the most notice of was that it takes a quick minute to get acclimated and comfortable having dialogue in French, but after a while you just sort of ease into it. My host parents have been really nice about repeating phrases, describing things I don’t understand, and speaking slowly with me. Hearing their three younger children speak with each other was a bit of a shock as well because of how rapidfire it sounds. I get by better with the parents than the kids, probably because the adults have met more foreigners and have worked around language barriers before. To my own surprise, I’ve been able to talk about a reasonably wide range of topics with the parents just by talking around the words I don’t know, albeit a bit slower than I’d like. My goals for this week are to think quicker on my feet and pick up more vocabulary and common French phrases.
I think these first few days have been a little more about culture and getting into a groove, which has been helpful. I’ve gotten the hang of the subway/bus system pretty easily, but then again I’m used to a far more complicated public transit system in Chicago. Orientation day taught us a lot about some common culture shock pitfalls (who’d have known the French don’t walk around barefoot or leave lights on in other rooms?), which have proven helpful. The warning about les bises (the cheek kisses the French do upon meeting instead of a handshake) was a bit too late though, hahah. One of the most surprising things about this first week, though, was how much American culture is shared here: the buses play radio stations with songs in English, the movie theater plays films that are often dubbed or in English with French subtitles, and it seems like everybody knows at least a little bit of Anglais. It really is a unique experience to be American travelling abroad. I know that if a French student came to Chicago, they wouldn’t be able to find movies or songs in their native language at all.
I got to talk to a lot of my classmates while waiting for our oral interviews, and I’ve found that everyone in the program is equally happy to be here and excited to get to know one another. Our sense of community already feels strong, likely due to our guaranteed shared interests and goals for our time here. The oral interviews confirmed our placements in our classroom levels, but we’re apparently allowed to switch up or down if we feel like we’re improving until the second week. My teacher goes by her first name and lets us use tu-toi, the informal pronouns in French. The classes are small, with four groups of 12, so it feels very intimate and all around there isn’t a ton of pressure. We’re just getting started with activities and weekly projects/presentations, and I like the atmosphere a lot. As opposed to a French class at school, where some people are there just to fulfill a credit, everyone in the room here is trying their best to learn. You get out what you put in, so everybody is putting in a lot.
After each morning class, there’s time to get lunch, and then return to a given rendezvous point for an activity or another round of classes. Each week, we have a set amount of “Into the Community” time, where we have to approach strangers to ask for things like directions or their favorite restaurants. In a relatively small city like Rennes, people are for the most part approachable. Obviously, this kind of activity is something I’d never have gotten the chance to do back home or really in any language class. Talking to strangers in English is a bit out of my comfort zone, so in French it’s even harder, but there’s definitely value in having genuine conversations with native French speakers on a regular basis.
Of course, I think it’s natural to go through feelings of being overwhelmed or that the tasks are impossible every once in awhile. I’ve definitely had those thoughts, but there’s a lot to reassure me, too. For one thing, the length of the program is four weeks: one week in, I’m already almost halfway there, but at the same time, I have a whole three weeks left to improve. Four weeks feels like the right amount of time to be manageable, while also being enough time to learn a lot. And of course, with every wave of doubt comes a resurgence of pride when I manage to order my lunch in French, or talk with my host family about the TV shows we both watch.
So, for week one, I think it’s been going pretty well! I get along great with my host family, and I feel like I’m already picking up a lot just by having to think through French all the time. In any case, I’m getting by, and I’m happy to be here. Until next week -- au revoir!
'Global Navigator Voices' is a collection of blog articles and pictures by our very own high school study abroad participants. Follow their adventures before, during, and after their experiences abroad!